What makes a network highly effective? When we look enviously at a peer and think “she is such a good networker,” what do we mean? At Edgework Consulting, one way we like to think about workplace networks is this: if there is something you don't know, the people in your network should be able to help you find some answers. We’ve talked before about why networks are important, and how the best place to start growing yours is in your own workplace. Now let’s take a look at how we measure the effectiveness of a network. Just because someone has three times the LinkedIn connections you do, or seems to be going to an endless string of happy hours and mixers, doesn’t mean their network is healthier than yours. The healthiest, most effective networks are comprised of eight qualities, which we’ve outlined below. How does your network stack up?
1. Quality: The better the people, the better the network. This may seem pretty basic, but it’s easy to get caught up in amassing Twitter followers, LinkedIn recommendations, and stacks of business cards. None of those contacts matter if the connections are not people whom you feel you can ask for advice, a recommendation, or a casual meeting.
2. Quantity: That being said, the more quality contacts you have, the better. It’s not worth sacrificing quality for quantity (despite the connection-spamming many social media sites encourage – “do you know so-and-so?”), so be judicious and thoughtful about how you build your network. At the same time, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone with whom you have a genuine connection. Your network should be growing with you as you move through your career, both within and outside of your current employer. Keep connecting with quality people to stimulate that growth.
3. Diversity: Our meta-analysis shows that the more diverse the people in your network are, the stronger your network is. Diversity can be gauged in many ways: personality type, level and type of work experience, personal background, skill set, age, department in which he or she works. Having six great contacts in legal is fantastic, but they won’t be much help when you’re having an issue with accounting. Likewise, when building your network think both up and down, as well as across, your organization. The team's most recent hire right out of college might be able to tell you what the newest online acronym means before it’s too late.
4. Frequency: There is no magic formula for how often you should connect, but we do know that regularly staying in touch matters. This is particularly true for those in leadership positions. The higher you climb, the more likely you are to become insulated in your role. As you grow in your career, be conscious of reaching out to the connections you value, but may not see as frequently anymore. Trust your gut on timing -- if you realize you haven’t seen someone in a while, a quick note letting them know you’re thinking of them, read about their alma mater in a prestigious publication, or saw their favorite basketball team won a big game, can go a long way.
5. Responsiveness: How quickly the contacts in your network respond is a good measure of how healthy your network is. Lives get busy, so not everyone will respond right away, but your best contacts are the ones who are there when you need them. If you send a couple of notes and don’t hear back it might be time to shift your energy elsewhere, or to reinvest in a connection that is important to you. Remember, your network is only as good as your active contacts.
6. Reciprocity: Networking is inherently interpersonal and, make no mistake, it is a two-way street. Make sure you are giving something to those in your network. What you give will not always be equivalent to what you get right away, but the sentiment of reciprocity can be important to an effective network. What you’re giving is less important than the fact that you are actively participating. Some favors may seem small to you, but they can mean a lot and have lasting benefits to someone else.
7. Intentionality: Healthy networks are well considered. Those with healthy networks have taken time to actively think about their talents, skills, and experiences, and the mutual value of sharing those with others.
8. Natural: The relationships in your network should feel genuine and meaningful, and not forced, contrived, or transactional. Sound a lot like friendship? The best network contacts are also friends. You should look forward to engaging with your network. The personal side of your relationships fuels the professional side.
Is your workplace network healthy and effective? When an invitation arrives in your inbox for a “networking event” does it make you groan with dread or apprehension? As the final point notes, building your network should feel natural, but that doesn’t always mean it's easy. At Edgework Consulting we can show you tools and strategies to build your network into a healthy and productive one, and best of all, one you really enjoy.